I suppose you'll know by now that of all those biographies and autobiographies out there in the bookshelves, you don't suppose that the subject themselves have that much time to sit down in front of a notebook, typewriter or computer, and start writing or banging away on the keyboard to tell the story of their lives. There's almost always someone to look over their shoulder, from ghost writers to editors, brought in to make life easier, outsourcing the writing to these folks through narration, question and answers and such. Moreover, these guys are the word smiths, and you can leave it to them to make you come out as eloquent, and to subtly shape your character through prose, whether accurate, or agreed upon to manipulate.
For the titular ghost writer in the film, played by Ewan McGregor, he sells his technique in being able to crawl under someone else's skin, and in a way put them in more positive, sympathetic light. So when the original ghost writer of the British Prime Minister (played by Pierce Brosnan) gets his life mysteriously and tragically cut short, a new writer is sought after to continue where the last had left off. However, in being the all inquisitive person trying to peel beneath protocol and restrictive orders coming to clash with his creativity, McGregor's unnamed ghost writer becomes caught up in a web of intrigue that his predecessor was, and through his pulling back the layers of veils covering a sinister plot, he too puts his life in peril now that he seemed to have known too much.
Helmed by embattled Polish director Roman Polanski, who was the subject of a film himself, this movie seemed to be his filmic hit back at the powers that be, like a veiled hex in wishing that those who dug and interpreted findings contradictory to his own explanation, will be hunted down and eventually gotten rid of through his well connected friends in high places. It touches on the notion of Truth, that sometimes facts and correctness are buried deep within the hearts and minds of man, and usually the guilty can get away with various injustices in the world.
Crafting a taut thriller, he has McGregor to thank for in being the charismatic prober who's not welcome as he starts to dig where he's not wanted. McGregor excels in his role as a one man tour-de-force, in being both the hunter and the prey, bringing us through the corridors of the search for truth. He single-handedly engages you in navigating to a web of intrigue with no clear answers, with the people he speaks to being all but part of the puzzle. Tom Wilkinson's small support role also loaded the film with gravitas, since Pierce Brosnan was largely absent for most of the film. Those expecting some great scenes between the two leading men will be sorely disappointed, but those involving McGregor and Wilkinson will more than make up for it.
Interestingly, those who follow current affairs may wonder just whether Polanski was giving his own take of the recent US-UK leaders during the time of both the Afghan and Iraqi war. With the US leader mocked as being silly and the UK one alluded to having someone else behind the scenes and across the Atlantic to manipulate and pull strings, one cannot help but chuckle at the none too subtle parallels that can be drawn from the whispers of the corridors of power. Polanski plants the notion of more powerful, covert forces on hand that works beneath the scenes, and how theories border on exactly what the truth is.
Blessed with beautiful cinematography by Pawel Edelman and a powerful ending that perhaps some may not appreciate for the bleakness already mirrored in the real world, this comes off as quite the positive surprise of a political thriller, led first and foremost by McGregor's sterling performance.